Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying by James M. Olson

Revolutionary War officer Nathan Hale, one of America’s first spies, said, “Any kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.” A statue of Hale stands outside CIA headquarters, and the agency often cites his statement as one of its guiding principles. But who decides what is necessary for the public good, and is it really true that any kind of service is permissible for the public good?

These questions are at the heart of James M. Olson’s book, Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying. Olson, a veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service, takes readers inside the real world of intelligence to describe the difficult dilemmas that field officers face on an almost daily basis. Far from being a dry theoretical treatise, this fascinating book uses actual intelligence operations to illustrate how murky their moral choices can be. Readers will be surprised to learn that the CIA provides very little guidance on what is, or is not, permissible. Rather than empowering field officers, the author has found that this lack of guidelines actually hampers operations. Olson believes that U.S. intelligence officers need clearer moral guidelines to make correct, quick decisions. Significantly, he believes these guidelines should come from the American public, not from closed-door meetings inside the intelligence community. Fair Play will encourage a broad public debate about the proper moral limits on U.S. intelligence activities.
Book review by David Robarge
Scenarios “taken from the real world of espionage and covert action…[that] raise moral issues that US intelligence practitioners currently face or could conceivably face in the future.” :
1. Homosexual Blackmail
2. Trojan Horse
3. False Flag
4. Hit Team
5. Torture
6. Kidnapping and Torture by Surrogates
7. Truth Serum
8. Journalism Cover
9. Operational Use of Journalists
10. Human Rights Violators
11. Torture Training
12. Humanitarian Aid Worker Cover
13. Missionary Cover
14. Operational Use of Academics
15. P-Sources (Professors)
16. Prostitute for Terrorist
17. Child Prostitute
18. Terrorist Act for Bona Fides
19. Election Tampering
20. Seduction and Compromise
21. Romeo Operations
22. Coercive Pitch
23. Feeding a Drug Habit
24. Kidnapping or Killing a Defector
25. Fabricating Evidence
26. L-Devices (lethal)
27. Insertion Operations
28. Fake Diagnosis
29. Drugging a Foreign Diplomat
30. Press Placements
31. Fabricating Academic Credentials
32. Plagiarizing a Ph.D. Dissertation
33. Exposing Unwitting Person to Risk
34. Kamikaze Dolphins
35. Spying on Americans Overseas
36. Spying on Friends
37. Spying on the United Nations
38. Industrial Espionage
39. Bribing a Foreign Government
40. Tampering with U.S. Mail
41. Protection of Code Breaking
42. Breaking a Promise to an Agent
43. Unauthorized Cover
44. Bogus Websites and Chatrooms
45. Back Doors
46. Biological Attack
47. Forging Documents from Friendly Countries
48. Collateral Damage
49. Foreign Officer Visitors
50. Interrogation
James M. Olson is on the faculty of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, where he teaches courses on intelligence and national security. He served his entire career in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. His career highlights include serving as the chief of CIA counterintelligence at CIA headquarters and in overseas assignments in Moscow, Vienna, and Mexico City. He lives in College Station, Texas.
Just War, Ethics, and Terror CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence
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